Al Pacino, John Cusack, Danny Aiello, Martin Landau, Anthony Franciosa

In this New York City political thriller just oozing with cynicism, Pacino—still stuck, for some reason, in his blaring Scent of a Woman mode—turns up as a mayor with presidential aspirations. He is in the middle of greeting a Japanese dignitary when he learns that a Brooklyn boy has been killed by a stray shot during a cop-drug dealer gun battle. The ensuing uproar throws Pacino and his young deputy mayor, Cusack, into a tortuous controversy. It also exposes an old scandal involving a judge (Landau), a political boss (Aiello) and a Mafia family head (Franciosa).

Tension does indeed run high—at least until the whole thing fizzles out in a series of sputtering anticlimaxes, due possibly to the fact that four writers share credit for the story. Apparently, there was more emphasis on compromise than on mystery.

Excess volume notwithstanding. Pacino is adept enough. What brings more pleasure is watching Cusack, the best actor of his generation, get a substantial role, and the graceful comeback of Franciosa as the old Mafioso. (R)

Chris Farley, David Spade

Watching this is like spending the evening at Wrestlemania: The movie is loud, crude, full of pratfalls, and its bulky leading man (Farley) has resplendent blond tresses that nearly steal the show.

Farley and Spade team up here again after last year's Tommy Boy. The formula is the same: the big, stupid lug with a heart of gold who can't stay out of trouble, and the sneaky little guy who keeps him in line. This time, Farley's antics threaten the campaign of his older brother (Tim Matheson), who's running for governor. "He's like Roger Clinton, Billy Carter and Ronald Reagan's whole family rolled into one," moans Matheson's aide after Farley has accidentally mowed down parking meters with a campaign truck and scared the Geritol out of senior citizens with his enthusiastic proselytizing for his brother: Indeed.

Farley strives mightily, but there is nothing delicate about his clowning—it's like watching Baby Huey audition for MTV. Spade has a couple of snappy lines ("Is there an Opie convention in town?" he asks a carload of freckled redheads), but mostly he just seems snide. (PG-13)

John Travolta, Christian Slater

It's strange enough to find Travolta in this sort of hardware action picture, full of exploding choppers and jeeps. Stranger still, he's the villain, an Air Force major who deliberately downs his top-secret fighter plane and then tries to make off with its nuclear warheads. (Object: blackmail.) This major is the sort of adrenaline-loving sadist who can't resist upping the ante, even if the result is incineration in a mushroom cloud. Informed that his latest gambit borders on insanity, he responds, "Yeah. Ain't it cool?"

Travolta has squeezed out all his natural charm and turned his handsome smile into a crocodile's grin. But there doesn't seem to be anything left in his performance. His anger never seems potentially ballistic. More often, he appears merely to be put out, as if he were disappointed with room service. That would make Slater, as a pilot out to thwart the conspiracy, the bellhop. He has virtually no presence.

The explosions and crashes, as directed by John Woo, are all thumpingly good. (R)

Vincent Cassel, Hubert Kounde, Said Taghmaoui

Three friends, one a Jew, the second an Arab and the third a black man, are trying to get through another day in one of the many bleak housing projects that ring Paris. Over the next 24 hours, these young men aimlessly lounge on a rooftop, jeering police; attempt to visit a comatose pal who has been hospitalized after being beaten up by cops; insult bourgeois poseurs upon crashing an art gallery opening; and tangle violently with skinheads. Theirs is a world where one minute you are teasing each other over who cut the cheese and the next, guns are drawn.

Although in some ways, French director-screenwriter Mathieu Kassovitz's (Café au Lait) provocative Hate is reminiscent of several recent American urban dramas (Menace II Society, Juice), it seems uniquely European. These young men aren't as angry as their American counterparts, and their anger is over class, not color. But it's anger just the same; and throw guns into the mix, Kassovitz seems to be saying, and you had better be ready to rumble. (Not rated )

>Annabeth Gish

BACK FOR ANOTHER SLICE

Annabeth Gish seemed poised for stardom when at age 18, and hot off the 1988 sleeper Mystic Pizza—starring another promising young actress, Julia Roberts—she left Hollywood for Duke University. "It was," she says, "a very hard decision. Some powerful people in movies told me I was making a big mistake." At 24, with cum laude honors in English and theater, she has returned to the screen, as Julie Nixon Eisenhower in Nixon, and holding her own with Uma Thurman and Timothy Hutton in Beautiful Girls. Gish talked with us from her book-filled West Los Angeles apartment.

What has it been like returning to Hollywood?

It's been hard re-educating people. They think in terms of your last film, and in mine I was an awkward adolescent. Returning is like coming out.

Do you feel you've lost ground?

What's happened to Julia [Roberts] is amazing. You can't compare that to anything. But watching what my friends were doing is hard. That's the beast that rises up, and you just have to learn to tame it.

Did you consider giving up acting while you were in school?

I thought about writing. I studied poetry all through college, and I'd love to publish my poetry, but I'm shy about showing it. Maybe someday.

What attracted you to Beautiful Girls?

The writing. There's a monologue delivered by Rosie O'Donnell about how women on the covers of magazines are airbrushed, their images perfected and phony. She tells them to appreciate what they have. I just said: "That's so true. That's something I want to save."

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Tom Gliatto,
  • Todd Gold.